July 27, Kimberley, WA: A group of 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers held on board an Australian Customs vessel for nearly a month have been taken to the Curtin Detention Centre in Kimberley, Western Australia.
Three plane loads of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who were transferred from the Customs vessel to the Cocos Islands first, have left the island's airport Sunday afternoon and arrived in the Curtin Detention Centre, The Guardian reported.
The group of 157 asylum seekers including 37 children left Pondicherry, India early in June sailing to Australia when they were intercepted by the Australian authorities and held aboard the Customs vessel Ocean Protector at an unknown location.
They have been held on board the Customs ship, while their legal status is determined after a case was filed on behalf of the asylum seekers in a Melbourne court. The case will be heard by a full bench of the High Court in Canberra next month.
Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has told ABC news that the government policy is no asylum seekers who come by boat would reach the Australian mainland, but he has been forced to make an exception because India wants to interview them.
Earlier this month Australia handed over another 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka Navy in mid sea. Sri Lanka remanded five of the returned asylum seekers, who were suspected of smuggling the rest, and released others on bail upon their return.
The move drew heavy criticism from the UN agency for refugees and from human right groups and human rights lawyers obtained a court order preventing the Australian government from immediately returning the 157 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka without hearing their refugee claims.
The lawyers for the asylum seekers also asked the court to order the Australian Government not to return them to the offshore detention facilities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.
The lawyers charged that the Australian government had acted illegally when the asylum seekers were intercepted in sea beyond Australia's immigration control.